Tusken Raider Riding a Bantha

This Tusken Raider riding a bantha won first prize in the piñata category at a Mexico City Star Wars convention more than a decade ago. I loved how the maker channeled his love for the movies into such a fun and creative piece, and it really cemented my love for fan-made collectibles.

Actual Outside Door to the Mos Eisley Cantina

It seems unlikely—impossible really—that this actual outside door to the Mos Eisley cantina seen on screen survived for two decades outdoors in Tunisia. A Lucasfilm colleague, David West Reynolds, was leading a tour of location sites in 1996 and met with the man who rented the “cantina” building to the filmmakers. David asked if any props or other traces of the production had been left behind and was told there was nothing. But continuing to look around, he spotted and recognized this immediately, even though it had been weathered and most of the paint was gone. The owner had been using it as the door of his chicken coop!

A Fan-Made AT-AT

A friend picked this up at a flea market for $10 more than 20 years ago. To me, it’s a piece of folk art. My theory is that some kid really wanted an Imperial Walker (AT-AT) but dad couldn’t afford it; so he went into his woodshop, carved this with moving joints and nails for the chin guns, and then drilled two holes on top for action figures. Awesome piece!

C-3PO Tape Dispenser

This C-3PO tape dispenser is from a Japanese ceramics line around 1983. It needs little comment.

1976 Canvas Banner

This canvas banner means a lot to me. Lucasfilm used it when it took Star Wars directly to fans at conventions in 1976—a year before the movie opened. I’ve had it for a long time, but it was only about six years that I discovered who painted it: the masterful concept artist who created the look of the Star Wars galaxy, the late Ralph McQuarrie. “I remember painting that,” Ralph told me. “That’s my original logo design—and I still like it better than the one they ended up with!”

Crew Jumpsuit

Hoth was an inhospitable planet for the Rebel Base in The Empire Strikes Back. So was the actual location: Finse, Norway, where the film crew encountered a late-season blizzard. This is the frigid-climate clothing given to the crew—in this case, Geoff Glover, the unit director of photography.

Boba Fett Prototype

Fans were disappointed in 1979 when the mail brought them a figure of a new bounty hunter who would be appearing in Empire; it was supposed to fire a missile from its backpack. But because of product-safety issues, the missile had to be sonic-welded into the toy. These are the two main prototype “test” versions of the never released missile-firing Boba Fett.

Stormtrooper Golf Bag

Japanese Star Wars products are usually super-cool. Take this limited-edition Stormtrooper golf bag from Bridgestone. Only 500 were made. There’s a companion Darth Vader bag too.

Ewok Packed with Glue Sticks

There are many ways to sell action figures. This is probably one of the strangest. From Italy, our little Ewok friend is packed with two Uhu glue sticks. It’s still not clear to me which product they were trying to sell.

[i]Star Wars[/i] Arcade Games

At the end of a long work day, when there’s some time to kick back, it’s great to go into the Star Wars Arcade and shoot some pinball or play a video game—all set on free play. The first Star Wars arcade game is the pinball game at the far left; it was made in Australia in 1982.

Co.Create

See The Galaxy's Biggest Star Wars Memorabilia Collection

Steve Sansweet, head of fan relations for Lucasfilm, walks Co.Create through a tour of Rancho Obi-Wan, the world’s biggest collection of Star Wars material.

Perhaps there’s a bigger collection of Star Wars memorabilia in a galaxy far, far away, but on this planet the largest one belongs to Steve Sansweet.

A hoarder of all things Star Wars since before the original film even arrived, the former Wall Street Journal bureau chief keeps his enormous catalog of interstellar ephemera in a nonprofit museum called Rancho Obi-Wan. Sansweet is more than just a devotee, however. As the advisor on fan relations for Lucasfilm and author of 16 books about the series, he is an official authority on galactic civil disputes; a Yoda among Yodas.

"It was love at first sight," Sansweet says of the 1977 film that started it all. He may have been one of the first people to feel that way, too, having seen Star Wars in a Fox backlot screening two weeks before its release. A brochure sent out to media people in advance of the screening became Sansweet’s first collectible, after he rescued it from a coworker’s trash bin. Many more would follow obviously.

“Movies had not really been successful with licensing stuff up until Star Wars, but when the first merchandise came out, I started buying it,” Sansweet says. “I was already buying the first action figures and toys in early '78, but then Empire Strikes Back came out in '80, and that completely hooked me and sealed the deal.”

The Force aficionado didn’t realize how significant a collection he had until the late-80s, when two fortuitous events occurred. First, several major collectors of Star Wars memorabilia had begun to sell off their merchandise--in at least a couple of cases because of a divorce settlement. It was a quiet moment for fans at the time, with no new Star Wars movies on the horizon and no expanded universe publishing program yet in place. Sansweet’s interest was still as strong as ever, though, so he was able to fold major chunks of others’ collections into his own.

The second thing that catapulted the collector onto the world stage of Star Wars was that producer Gary Kurtz began selling a storage facility’s worth of items, including spaceship models and other materials used to make the films. Sansweet refinanced his house to buy it all. “It was just one of those things where you either do it, and it’s at great cost to you, or you kick yourself about it for the rest of your life and pine away at an experience missed,” he says. “I wasn’t ready to do that.”

Sansweet kept building his world-class collection, and although he worked for the Wall Street Journal by day, he had begun writing books about Star Wars in his spare time. In the years just before the prequels began rolling out, though, he joined the franchise payroll full-time—as Lucasfilm’s Fan Relations ambassador. Responsibilities for this role included making appearances at conventions to field questions and share details about new editions and other developments. Sansweet attended 60 conventions the first year alone. It was a job he was born to do.

In order to contain an increasingly expanding archive, Sansweet’s one-story house in L.A. had become a two-story house. Eventually, it grew to three storys. The initial storage locker he rented to hold the runoff from his house turned into five storage lockers. Finally, the collector bought a former chicken ranch in Northern California and established the Rancho Obi-Wan—a mecca for fans around the world to come and see all the toys, action figures, models, scripts, and fan art they can handle. The collection still continues to grow, however—especially with an announced new trilogy on the way.

“I’m being more selective these days, but I still call myself a completest,” Sansweet says. “I always say, 'Buy what you love.' Problem is I love it all.”

Have a look at some of the coolest stuff from Rancho Obi-Wan in the slide show above.

Slide images courtesy of Anne Neumann

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